About a Rock: Mass and Void

“We even have a feeling about a rock, about anything.” – Donald Judd

Obsessive? Maybe not, even for an evasive interviewee such as Judd

Like function, landscape design is much about the relationship between mass and void. Below are views of the same median I designed for vehicular speeds, though it also works for pedestrians and cyclists to a degree.

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The plants are grown in, showing the relationships between boulders, plants, and gravel mulch. The boulders and plants are mass (positive space). The gaps using mulch are called voids. (negative space) 

Together in a landscape, that’s considered legibility.

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The relationship of mass and void begins with the designer and their plan. Moving plants on a plan is easier than in the field. 

Years earlier, young 5 gallon plants were placed by the contractor helped by the owner’s representative 3 or 4 feet away from boulders per plan, further apart than above. That enabled those plants to grow properly in relation to each other and the boulders.

More than not, project owners and contractors don’t get that. Plants that appear on the plan against a boulder are placed too close, ignoring the plan’s scale and growth. 

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Nature often inspires good placement. Even if no person placed all this.

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That’s in Picacho Arroyo, near the above streetscape. Remember the Donald Judd quote?

Also, was Judd being too controlling wanting his works to be installed specifically for their space, or even to create spaces for his works?

Onto another streetscape vignette in the same development…

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There are plant and boulder masses with crushed gravel voids, like the other median.

But with differently-shaped boulders that couldn’t be predicted months earlier on a plan, the contractor and owner did a good job of retaining the plans’ spirit and spacing between once-younger and smaller plants and boulders.

The above parties also set the boulders to look real yet deliberate.

Everything matured graciously.

I agree with Donald Judd’s quote starting this post: a rock, anything!

Memorial in May

This is one of three El Paso hospitals I worked on with HKS, in that 2014 to 2016 whirlwind of renovations and new construction for Tenet Healthcare: The Hospitals of Providence Memorial Campus.

It looks great in evening light or even at night, but I also must stop by for a look in the early morning.

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Years later, this project is in ongoing maintenance. It’s great to see the solo Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’ full and in bloom, without any topping or chopping.

I hope to encourage some gentle pruning of low and crossing interior branches. It’s all that’s needed!

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Hopefully, I can also get the masses of Bouteloua gracilis grasses to be cut back to the ground instead of mounded, leaving stubble, and only every few years – not annually. There’s no need to do more, as has been done.

The green form of Leucophyllum spp. is being left to grow naturally. A victory!

More than one person I know was either born at this hospital or received care here, and I hope this revives any feelings of care received.

Too bad the seat walls along the sidewalk along Oregon Street were deleted from the contract. Now with the bus lines and landscaping, even without enough trees, those would provide a resting stop walking between the bus, streetcar, or just up the long incline to UTEP.

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I’m just not used to seeing this and other hospitals with hardly any people parked out front or in the parking lot like our post-March 2020 mayhem about COVID-19. Since the saying is how everyone is “sheltering in place”.

Of course, the artist’s sculpture trees look good, too, especially without a few more pesky trees from my original design, which would have somehow blocked their visibility from the street…

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5/15/20 weather:
87F / 55F / 0 or 31c / 13c / 0 

The Drive: Exit into Tucson

I’ve admired many landscape designs along the freeways and arterial streets in Arizona’s two largest cities for decades.

A critical mass in their horticultural community gets sense, place, and designing for traffic speeds. Photos from 12/22/19:

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This is the first time I exited onto West St. Mary’s Road. Always informative and fun, colleague and friend Scott Calhoun suggested meeting at a parked food truck for lunch.

Since I arrived early and Scott was riding from afar, I had extra time. Burger King was good for a free parking space, so I walked the rest of the way.

ADOT designed some attractive concrete accents at the bridges.

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There’s no shortage of cyclists in Tucson. One cyclist on a mountain bike…

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Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis above a mass of Beargrass / Nolina microcarpa makes a pleasing vignette while waiting for the light to change. Both are seriously bulletproof species in a wide part of the southwest.

And the other cyclist on a road bike…

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I’ll work back to how I exited I-10. Room for plants to mature.

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Regarding a request to see more Las Cruces pics on my blog, which I’ve shown many, I replied, “I have more to post on Arizona because there is more good arid-region design and plantsmanship in a few blocks of Tucson or Phoenix than in a mile of Las Cruces and El Paso or 2-3 miles of Albuquerque.”

These huge, almost trailing gray shrubs are…Texas Ranger / Leucophyllum spp. During the monsoon season, I’m sure many locals or visitors are very impressed.

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They are spaced well for rhythm, as are their masses for structure. No need to design 3 times as many plants for immediate effect, only to later remove half or more. Or shear into muffins, cylinders, boxes, …

Occasional accents were tucked in, but one must be stopped to appreciate them. Or rolling the dice by walking along the right shoulder, protected only by a curb.

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A minor detail, but some different massing of plants away from the yuccas, then placement of the occasional yucca further from those masses, especially from the drivers’ direction, would have shown off the planting better.

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A few Texas Olive / Cordia boissierii were used, but those were off to the right side and not too visible.

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It’s time to walk back, to join my cyclist / plant nerd friend for some lonche.

This ocotillo had a hard night, yet it’s still trying to hang on by blooming.

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Now, I’m stumped…

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The color combos work, but I’m stumped at the tallish Dasylirion mass in front of the interesting design motif at the corner.

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The plants appear to protect the artistry from taggers, yet they block a large portion of it from view.

I’m standing taking this, so that’s not far off the height of a typical pickup truck or SUV driver. Though perhaps the art is more visible from a Bubba Truck height?

No matter it’s still very appealing.

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An inlet shows where passive water harvesting was employed, to allow storm water from the street to soak into the median plantings.

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Both of us showed up for lunch for one of the best tortas I’ve had. And we’re wearing short sleeves in late December!

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